At this point in time, nearly every nation on the planet has been touched by the novel coronavirus. For many of us, that also means we’ve experienced the isolation of lockdown — which, coupled with social distancing, can feel especially hard for our kids. Even our shyest children enjoy some form of social interaction, whether it’s just seeing the grandparents once a week or hitting the park for a group playdate. While many of their favorite shows have touched on this and tried to normalize it for children, Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger can’t fix everything. As the days turn into weeks and months and, soon enough, a full year of little to no social interaction, your kids are definitely feeling and voicing their frustrations. But, how do you keep your sweeties happy and (relatively) untraumatized as we plod through a pandemic year? You’re going to need some stellar social distancing activities for kids.
Because here’s the hard truth: Even when a coronavirus vaccine is readily available, it may be quite some time before schools, extracurricular sports, events, and group gatherings go back to “normal.” Fortunately, sometimes all it takes is something fun and new to distract little ones from the current predicament. These social distancing activities were picked with that thought in mind. Many are games and activities your kiddos can do entirely on their own, without any other friends present. Others are perfect for a socially distanced playdate. Some of the more playdate-oriented activities require materials, which means planning with another mom or simply setting it up and leaving it on their doorstep. But it’ll make things a smidge more enjoyable for your munchkin, so it’ll be worth it!
You can also choose to socially distance yourself from family members while trying out some of these boredom busters.
Social Distancing Activities for Toddlers
Toddlers are especially hard to keep separate. They’re also the least likely to notice a difference in their everyday life. Still, if they’re missing Nana and G-pa, set up a Zoom or Facetime, put your smartphone on a tripod, and let your kiddo try these activities while your parents coo over them… or simply catch up with you, off-camera but nearby.
1. Sticker Sorting
Are you learning colors? Give your kiddo a makeshift book of construction paper or tape multiple colors of paper to the wall or floor (use painters’ tape so you don’t do damage to the surface). Next, hand over a large pack of those removable dot stickers everyone uses at garage sales. The bigger packs come in a ton of colors. Help your kiddo sort the dots onto the matching construction paper.
2. Tower Stacking
Toddlers love to stack. They’ll stack cups (even ones that aren’t officially for stacking), blocks, animals, remotes, and anything else they can find. Set them in a controlled environment — like inside a baby-gated area or their old playpen — and give them things to stack. Anyone you Zoom with during this activity will certainly get a kick out of your child’s giggle when they knock down the tower. Meanwhile, your child will enjoy hearing praises from their long-lost friends and family as they stack things higher and higher.
3. Ribbon Tugging Box
Ribbon tugging boxes and lids are so easy to make and such wild fun for toddlers. Plus, it teaches them all kinds of developmental stuff. Depending on how ambitious you want to get, the ribbon tugging toy can be as big or as portable as you like. A simple plastic container with some brightly colored ribbon is the perfect distraction on a fresh-air road trip. A bigger version might be more fun for a video chat with loved ones.
4. Lacing Cards
Similar to tugging boxes, lacing cards are great for your nugget’s fine motor skills. You can buy these or make your own. Pro-tip: If you’re making your own, why not make a set to send to someone else? Before you attach the lace, let your toddler color or finger paint them for a personal touch. Send them to another toddler in your life or to Aunt Chrissy, so she can play with your babe on their next chat.
5. Obstacle Course
The older your kiddo gets, the more intricate this can be. For toddlers, though, start with things like a kitchen chair to crawl under, colored paper “lily pads” to jump between, and taped swirls and zig-zags to follow.
Social Distancing Games for Little Kids
Once they’re a little older — think: preschool, kindergarten, and maybe first grade — your kids will start to really miss their friends. Most of these games are things they can do over a video chat or in a large backyard (with a lot of supervision).
1. Sound Guessing Game
While sitting on opposite sides of a porch, different ends of a video call, or even on an “old school” telephone, your kids can take turns mimicking noises and having their friends guess what it is. This can go beyond animal sounds, too. Maybe your kiddo does a great Buzz Lightyear impersonation? If they’re not tied down to one spot, let them find things that make noise around the house. Can their friend guess the sound of the ice maker when it’s off-camera?
2. Coloring Pages
Next time you go on a coloring page printing spree, consider printing duplicates. Pop them in an envelope or binder and then ask your child who they’d like to invite on a coloring date. Kids can easily color “together” from opposite ends of a park picnic table or just over a Zoom meeting. If you have cousins scattered across the country, consider getting the whole gang involved. Try our unicorn coloring pages, puppy coloring pages, and princess coloring pages.
3. Sand Bin Letter Tracing
This is another great activity that can be done alone or with friends at varying levels of togetherness. Just put about a half-inch of sand (or kinetic sand) in a couple of shoebox-sized plastic containers. You only need one for a solo activity, or you can make a couple and let your kiddo choose who they want to deliver the extras to from their friend circle. You can give them letters to write or words to spell in their sand using their finger, a straw, or a pencil to “carve” them out. If they’re playing with friends, they can take turns calling the shots and seeing who can spell it right.
4. Simon Says
Simon Says can easily be done on a video chat or socially distanced outdoors. To play in-person, mark off each kiddo’s space with some tape, chalk, or ribbon. As long as they stay in their zones, let them enjoy each other’s company.
5. Follow The Leader Dance Party
While this can obviously be done on video chat with one parent in charge of music, you could also pick up some on-clearance hula hoops and set up a bubble-version in your own backyard.
6. Freeze Dance — Distanced Version
Your kids have no doubt played this before, right? Well, they can do it again, but this time with a bit more parental supervision and clearly distinguished personal spaces.
7. Sensory Bins
While you’re working with those plastic shoe boxes, why not make some shareable sensory bins? If you shuffle these between homes, make sure you leave ample time for germs to die. Or, opt for the kind you fill with water or rice. When a friend is done with the box, they can dump out the water or rice and wipe down all the other contents before passing it on. You might want to wipe down everything one more time once it arrives on your doorstep. Then just refill with fresh water or new rice for your chance to play.
8. Red Light, Green Light
The point of Red Light, Green Light is for the children to outrun each other, so you won’t have to worry about them touching. The leader stands a few yards from the other children and while they spin around they say, “red light, green light, one two three.” While the leader spins, the other children will try to race to them. If the leader sees any of the kids move, that child has to go back to the starting line. The first child to reach the leader wins and becomes the new leader.
7. Hop Scotch
You can’t go wrong with a game of hopscotch. Make your chalk design at least six to 10 feet long. You can be as creative as you like! And once you’re done, give each kid their own rock to throw and skip over as well. Since they’re outside and the hopscotch path is long, you’ll have no problem keeping the kids socially distanced.
As your kids get older, it’s going to get harder and harder to entertain them at home. If you’re sick of them staring at screens and willing to give some genuinely socially distanced but still social activities a go, these are relatively safe. Make face masks a requirement, though!
1. Jump Rope
If everyone has their own jump rope, how close can they possibly get, right? Alternately, most double-dutch ropes are 16 feet long. That means three kids can play (one on each end and one in the middle) while still keeping about six feet of distance. You are, of course, going to have to stay nearby for gentle reminders.
2. Noodle Tag
When your kids really need to blow off some steam, hand out some pool noodles and send them into the yard. Instead of tagging each other with their hands, they’re tagging with pool noodles, which will help ensure a good distance.
3. Hide & Find
This is a take on hide-and-seek. Except, instead of a person hiding, friends can take turns hiding objects: Say a soccer ball or a Happy Meal prize. While one friend sits on the porch with their eyes closed, another friend should hide the object. Afterward, they trade places and the friend scours the yard for the object.
Kickball is a relatively touch-free activity, as long as you institute a “no hand tagging” rule.
5. Popcorn Storytime
Still unsure about get-togethers, even socially distanced? We get it. Popcorn Storytime can be played on a conference call or video call. One kid will start a story and continue for a set amount of time (30 seconds to a minute), then they choose the next friend to take over the story.
Other Fun Kid-Friendly Social Distancing Activity Ideas
1. Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems
Yup, the guy who brought us Piggie and Gerald, Knuffle Bunny, and Pigeon invites us to draw with him. You can find all the available episodes here.
2. Rock Painting
You get bonus points if you leave your rock masterpieces in outdoor places where others can find them.
Set up a still life, draw each other, or just see what the imagination produces.
4. Yard Work
Make raking leaves and picking up pinecones into a game, and your kid won’t even complain about the manual labor.
Listen, there are myriad mental and physical benefits that come from nap time. Sure, your kid might not think this is the most exciting idea — but you could always help them create a killer pillow fort especially for daytime snoozes.
6. Secret Handshake
Having a secret handshake is the coolest! You’ll definitely win brownie points with your kids if you come up with a non-touching, social-distancing safe version.
Most streaming services offer free trial periods, so even if you don’t pay for a subscription, you can access content for a limited time. And that content includes plenty of kid-friendly movies.
9. Couch Culture
Take a virtual tour of a museum.
10. Wild Kingdom at Home
Watch live streams from zoos.
11. Scavenger Hunts
You could even have your kiddos help create clues for their friend to use as part of a “virtual” scavenger hunt. How fun!
12. Get Tactile
13. Hide and Seek, Harry Potter-Style
Start a TikTok channel with your tween or teen.
15. Tidy Up
What better time than now to clean out those overflowing toy bins? Discard or donate toys that are broken or no longer being used.
16. Art For Kids Hub
Creator Rob offers excellent guided art lessons for kids (which he does with his own children).
You might be surprised just how much you enjoy kid-approved podcasts.
18. Ask Alexa
Kids love puzzles! Even if it turns out they’re missing a piece, it’s still fun to see the (mostly) finished result.
20. Family Reading Time
Everyone snuggles up with a book or a pile of picture books and quietly reads.
21. Thank-You Notes
With so much sadness in the world right now, it’s the perfect time to send out some good vibes. Send thank-you notes to nurses and doctors, firefighters, police officers, postal workers, and trash collectors to let them know how grateful we all are for the extra work they are doing right now.
There’s a lot to be said for sending some good old-fashioned snail mail.
Commonsense Media has great suggestions for meditation apps for kids.
Bake all the treats! We all deserve a little extra sweetness right now.
26. Blind Taste Tests
Grab random snacks from the cupboard, ask your kids to close their eyes, and hand them “mystery” foods to taste. Think marshmallows, lemon slices, chocolate chips, and stale pretzels. The anticipation makes it fun.
Use blankets, chairs, boxes, tables. And try to let go of the fact that your house will be a disaster. It’s a pandemic — no one’s coming over anytime soon. And even if they were, they wouldn’t care about an overflowing laundry room and strewn about pillows.
28. Shadow Play
Turn off the lights, grab a few flashlights, and get creative.
29. Blocks, Blocks, and More Blocks
Use all the blocks, LEGOs, or Magna-Tiles you can find to create one giant structure.
31. Shooting Hoops
Time flies by when you’re playing basketball with your kiddos. Teach them to play “Horse” or “Around the World” and watch their skills grow.
32. Video Games
Listen, mama, give video games a chance. They aren’t all full of doom — in fact, many video games are educational now.
The website offers dances and singalongs and lots of indoor activities to keep your kids engaged.
35. Family Walks
Make this afternoon extracurricular a teachable moment when you pick up trash while on your walk.
36. Wheeling Around
Bikes, rollerskates, rollerblades, skates, scooters — pick your favorite wheels and get going.
Like, everything. You’ve got time. The sky’s the limit! If you have a label-maker, your little one will love slapping labels onto all of your newly alphabetized stuff.
Can you turn your bookshelf into a rainbow?
39. Work out
Are your kids jelly beans? Does their energy know no bounds? Being in the house with your kid all day can be stressful, but one way to ensure they go straight to bed at night is to tucker them out during the day. Your child may not have gym anymore, but exercise isn’t canceled. Create a workout routine for your little one that includes cardio, deep breathing, squats, lunges, and jumping around. Thirty minutes of running around can help your kid develop a healthy heart and better focus.
40. Balloon Tennis
Next to baseball, tennis is a naturally socially distanced game. But instead of using the hard little green ball, let your kids play a few rounds of balloon tennis. Not only will this help your toddler refine their motor skills, but it will keep everyone far apart.
41. Puddle Jumping
Create a path made of paper. Make sure each path is a different color so you can assign each kid to their own lane. Each child must jump from puddle to puddle, and the first one to finish their path wins. This is a great exercise for your nugget and a good way to teach them their colors.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.